Accidents will happen

We hear more about the benefits and celebration of failure than ever before. Some may say it’s become fashionable to fail. Even more fashionable, of course, if you fail and you’re late.

But everything in balance. Repeatedly and spectacularly fail, and someone will eventually celebrate your willingness to experiment with a P45 or withdrawal of funding. The important thing with failure is that we don’t dress it up as something it’s not. Like the tendency for significant and persistent gaps in skills or abilities being called “development areas”.

One could be forgiven, however, when considering workplace project case studies, for believing that nothing ever goes wrong. Reading a workplace journal is entering the land of make believe, a vacant sugar-coated heaven. One could be forgiven for believing that we only learn from what went well – or from what is reported to have gone well.

In project work, we make mistakes, the unexpected happens, the mis-alignment of the planets creates bad luck or unfortunate co-incidence, we weigh up the evidence and make a bad call, or ignore the evidence and trust our gut, and it lets us down. Whichever way, the process and outcomes are not always as we intended.

So why can’t we be honest? Here are a few suggestions:

  • We are conditioned to sell – and success is the only product worth offering, so we dress the experience accordingly
  • We consistently delude ourselves, we are in denial and believe our own hype
  • We are conditioned and tyrannised by plans – make a plan, deliver a plan, celebrate the delivery of the plan  – when the plan went out of the window in the first few weeks
  • The corporate comms team won’t like it if we let slip that anything didn’t go to plan – its bad for the reputation of the organisation
  • Our next career move is bound up in the success – or reported success – of the project
  • Everyone else’s projects went well (because the journals and conference papers say so) – why should we admit that ours didn’t?
  • No-one ever vets what is presented or published for the essential balance that reflects reality, there is no QC

But it’s a fool’s paradise.

  • No-one believes you, however glossy the message – we are dealing with people, so complexity and unpredictability follows, and we can’t control anywhere near everything
  • There is a healthily decreasing respect for spin, or the massaging of events – we are becoming more accustomed to it, and better able to spot it
  • Word will get out in your smaller-than-you-imagined circles anyway, people will talk about the outcomes and you will have no opportunity to put the reality across

Things will go wrong, we need to hear about them. Its finally time to be honest. So who’s first?


Leave a Reply